Monday, February 7, 2011
Raymond E. Feist - Author Interview Series
Raymond E. Feist is the author of thirty novels, including the widely renowned Riftwar Saga. He has been on the Times (London) Bestseller List, the New York Times Bestseller List, and every other major bestseller list multiple times over the course of his career.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
I was read to as a child, which always made me love stories. I got into serious reading when I was maybe nine or ten, when I began to "inhale books" as my mother called it. The first "serious" book I can remember reading was Huckleberry Finn, which captivated me, because Twain made the 19th Century Mississippi River country around Missouri live. I quickly developed an appetite for what was known in the late 19th Century, early 20th Century as "Boys Adventure" books, i.e. Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, Howard Pyle, Anthony Hope, etc. as well as historical novelists like Samuel Shellenbarger, Mary Renault, Harold Lamb, and especially Thomas Costain. I didn't get into science fiction or fantasy until I was a teenager.
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I first realised I was a writer in college, my second time around. I had taken a bit of an hiatus for several years. I had an assignment to write, an essay, and frankly I was overwhelmed by other classwork, my after school job, and my thesis. I hammered out the paper at 5 am the day it was due. I got an A and the instructor read it to the class aloud. To say I was floored is an understatement. But it was then I learned rule number one about good writing; it's not what you say, but how you say it 90% of the time.
As for what the reader gets out of all this, I only seek to entertain. I, like most writers, am commenting on the human condition many times, for it is struggle, achievement, sacrifice, and all the rest of it that is the foundation of drama. If a reader gains a personal insight or makes a change for the better in his or her life, that's their doing. It's all on them, and if my work was a catalyst I'm quick to point out that if it hadn't been my work it would have been something else, for the reader was ready for that change.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
Yes and no. I can't read much fantasy anymore, and only when I'm not in the throes of writing, which isn't often these days. I read other people's fantasy when I'm on vacation or taking a break, which means I really haven't read any other fantasy in a few years. When I have a little down time I like biography and history and politics as my main focus for recreational reading.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
I don't avoid anything because I'm worried I'll borrow; I've been at this too long, thirty three years now. I avoid it because I go cross-eyed at a certain point reading about another magician, or dragon, or whatever, because by the end of my work day I'm pretty sick of the whole genre. Now, about real people, that gets me going.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way?
Only five? That's tough.
I'd have to begin with the collected works of Shakespeare because first, he's the best ever, and second it's the way in which he looks at the human condition and has the story unfold; story first, but massive insights into the nature of humanity revealed. Hamlet is amazing.
Second would be Huckleberry Finn, because it's simple and brilliant and so deep at times it can make you cry for the sheer honesty of it.
Third was a book by Thomas Costain, The Money Man. Understand, he was a serous historian, but when he wanted to look at truth more than fact, he wrote historical novels. That book was about a gent named Jaques Coeur, the financial muscle behind King Charles VII. It made me realise that it wasn't only kings and heros who create history. My novel Rise of a Merchant Prince was my own attempt at that sort of story.
Fourth would have to be an early Heinlein "juvenal" novel, Tunnel in the Sky, because the hero was fourteen, my age, and he was competent and successful, and that was as alien a concept as I had ever encountered.
Fifth would be Tolstoy's War and Peace, because it's massive yet intimate. It tells the story of this terrible war as a background, but at its heart it's the story of a single man, Pierre, and his search for love.
And the last title is subject to change every fifteen seconds at whim. Because every fine book I've read in some way or another has left its fingerprints on me.
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
It would be the one volume Shakespeare. There are a couple of editions, but I suspect in this day and age I'd get the eversion for my iPad. I'd pick that because it never gets old. I've read Hamlet a few times and I'm always finding new stuff in it. Midsummer Night's Dream always makes me laugh out loud at the same places. Romeo and Juliet is always heart wrenching for the fickle nature of time. He was simple the best ever.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
My position is you grab the reader by giving him/her someone to care about then tossing the poor soul into a lot of trouble. Keep it moving and don't get bogged down. Something my father said to me once about film is also true in books: "if you're not writing action you're writing talking heads; if you're writing talking heads, they better be saying something important to the story".
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
Condescending to the craft. Any author who is giving me a wink and nod telling me I needed take what he/she does seriously, well, I'll take them at their word and not take them seriously. Anyone who is asking me to do the work in the story, i.e.I don't have to think the character is doing something smart, but I have to believe the character thinks he/she is doing something smart. If I have to justify what the character's choice is, in other words the author doesn't do it correctly, I'll lose interest. Lazy choices and bad style.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
Not any one. There are several who's work I enjoy. There are some popular writers like John Grisham or Clive Cussler who suck me in because of their style. Clive is on my "guilty pleasures" list because his Dirk Pitt is like James Bond. If he had really gotten banged around as much as the stories say he'd be in hospital for life, but he bounces back. Writers whose work I admire, that's a long list. A few of them include Tim Powers, Jonathan Carroll, Larry McMurtry, the late John D. McDonald, Andre Norton, Harper Lee (if you're only going to write one book, that's the one), and I just realised this list could cover pages.
If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?
Excluding the "classics?" Wow. OK, let's see. Assuming you're talking fiction.
10. Land of Laughs, by Jonathan Carroll, because it is one of the best written, most ingeniously crafted contemporary fantasy novels ever.
9. Dune, by Frank Herbet, because it's the original "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," story, the first "historical novel about a place that doesn't exist." Because it's huge but he made me care about everyone in it.
8. Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, because it's so wry, so smart, and yet so well detailed and researched it makes me accept silly premises as possible.
7. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, because it's social science fiction at it's best. And because the author posited a society necessitated by circumstances beyond our ability to experience. It's the wild west meets Star Trek.
6. The Lord of the Rings, because it's a watershed. WIthout it I wouldn't be making a living and because at it's heart is the story of a little guy. Wonderful stuff, and if you have to explain why it's wonderful, the person you're talking to has something missing.
5. The Natural by Bernard Malamud, because it's a timeless story and about so much more than baseball. It's about dreams and aspirations and overcoming human frailty and craziness.
4. The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W. P. Kinsella, because it's wonderful silly, hopeful and at the end validates your believe in the human heart. I like it more than his more widely hailed Shoeless Joe (Field of Dreams)
3. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, because it's maybe his best book, and because like the others it ultimately speaks to the human condition and the need for love. In his heart every man has a Montana Wildhack out there somewhere he longs for; if he's lucky he married her.
2. The Firm by John Grisham. In the realm of law-thriller fiction, maybe the best every. If a guy can make you sit up, heart pounding, knuckles turning white from gripping the pages while he describes a character making photocopies, he's good.
1. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, because it was an amazing cautionary tale in its day that still holds up. It's funny and bleak and sad and hopeful all at the same time. My agent represented Miller, so I have a little insight and can only say you'd have to be slightly nuts to write this, and he was, but that crazy took him and the reader to wonderful places in the human soul.
I hasten to add that the above list is subject to change without notice and at whim. That list reflects how I felt after one cup of coffee at 6 am on a Tuesday, and I will most likely be thinking for the rest of the week, "Oh, wait, I should have included . . . ! Moreover, lists are fun but lists are stupid. and don't take them seriously.
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
A book that I actually had sitting on my "to read" pile for over five years, truth to admit. It's Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespear by Stephen Greenblatt. It's in my opinion the finest biography of Shakespeare ever and looks at his life in the social context of England as he grew up. I think the scholarship is brilliant and it's fun to read.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
I don't have strong opinions, but I have opinions. I think it's too early to tell what the impact will be. The task for the writer is still the same: write a good book then find an audience. The first task is unchanged. The second task now has more ways to get out there. The problem with "non-traditional" is that there's no time tested marketing apparatus that will let potential readers know you're there. That may be changing and if so, good. As for books, of course there's a future. Remember, books do a wonderful job of being books. They're easy to carry around, you can stick them in your back pocket and not break them, and if you lose one, it's pretty cheap to replace compared to a computer or iPad.
Born in Southern California, Raymond E. Feist currently resides in San Diego, California with his son, while his daughter attends college. He loves fine wine, good whiskey, and bad women, and the company of good friends. You can find out more about Raymond at www.crydee.com/